Inside Cuba

September 25, 2007

Cuba is not the only country in which life has become more difficult in the 1990s. But it is a country in which the difficulties of daily life have given rise to an intellectual ferment that may be more anguished than in other places, challenging once-firm assumptions and suggesting solutions that question deeply held beliefs. As the space for dialogue and debate broadens with the playing out of the economic crisis, voices from within Cuba have become increasingly assertive and interesting to listen to. In this Report we offer some of those voices and some of the questions being debated—if sometimes in veiled terminology—"within the revolution."

To help us read between some of the lines, we have asked long-time Cuba scholar Dick Parker to situate the Report's arguments within the ongoing debates in Cuba, and within the difficulties confronted by the Cuban revolution. As Parker comments, the regime, far from collapsing along with the Communist governments of Eastern Europe, has shown "a surprising capacity for survival," and that capacity, born more of legitimacy than of force, has also been a capacity to shape the dialogue and debate.

There is no attempt here to comprehensively cover or analyze the current period in Cuba, as we did in the September/October 1995 NACLA Report, "Cuba: Adapting to a Post-Soviet World." Rather, this Report is a companion piece to that earlier Report that aims to convey some sense of how critical, self-reflective Cubans within the revolution are thinking and talking about the massive changes the country is undergoing. Here we look through the eyes of some who are living through the ongoing crisis and trying to work their way out of it. In the 1995 Report, we interviewed a number of Cuban intellectuals about the course of post-Soviet Cuba and concluded that while there existed "a general consensus that the country must not regress to its pre-1959 past, there is much less agreement about the kind of future Cuba should aspire to." The following essays by politically engaged Cubans begin to navigate those difficult waters.

Whatever political change occurs in Cuba will, of course, be conditioned by the economic transformation, now well underway. The new forms of property, discussed here by economist Pedro Monreal, will strongly influence the new forms of power. Should the economic crisis deepen, or simply continue for much longer—or should the way out rely heavily on the application of market forces—not only will what Dick Parker refers to as "the mechanisms which sustain the legitimacy of the regime" be severely challenged, but so will the viability of socialism itself. This is troubling to the regime—accounting for its various shifts in the implementation of economic reform—as well as to committed socialists.

Paradoxically, argues Haroldo Dilla, the civic consciousness created by the revolution itself may be the only bulwark against the process set in motion by the revolution's current policies. Echoing a point of view with growing currency on the Latin American left, Dilla argues that it may be less in the state than in the routine social and political activity of civil society that "effective barriers can be constructed to withstand the market's colonization of daily life."

It will be noticed that the question of the inevitable political transition to come "after Fidel" is missing from these pages, as it is missing from the open dialogue within Cuba. Likewise, it seems that the open debate is pretty much a debate which has been sanctioned by Fidel himself. Dilla, for example, comments that it only became safe to carry on the interesting and provocative discussions of "civil society" after the subject had been broached by Fidel in an international forum.

While "transition" is a word seldom used in Cuban political circles, it is clear that deep changes—in virtually all facets of life—are taking place. This NACLA Report highlights some of the ways in which those changes are being debated on the island itself.


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